Aging issues

Alcohol and the aging process: How alcohol affects older adults

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Starting the day with a mimosa for breakfast. Sipping a glass of wine while you’re making lunch. Enjoying a cold beer with your friends during dinner. You might’ve been able to drink like this in your 20s, but as you age, alcohol may take an even bigger toll on your health.

How much alcohol is safe to drink?

So, how much is too much? According to The National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism, people older than 65 who are considered healthy and don’t take any medicines should limit themselves to 7 drinks a week.1 No more than 1–2 drinks each day.

The older we get, the less tolerance we typically have for alcohol. It takes the body longer to process alcohol. This means the effects of alcohol continue to affect us longer, which includes a lowered immune response in addition to impaired judgment and coordination. Frequent alcohol use can also decrease the effectiveness of some medications. All the more reason to limit your intake as you age.2

Long-term health risks of drinking

Drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time may:3

  • Lead to some kinds of cancer, liver damage, immune system disorders and brain damage
  • Worsen some health conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, ulcers, memory loss and mood disorders
  • Make some medical problems hard for healthcare providers to find and treat, like a heart attack
  • Cause some older people to be forgetful and confused, which may be mistaken for signs of Alzheimer's disease

How to cut back on drinking?

Are you interested in cutting back or limiting your drinking? Consider these tips:4

  • Write down your reasons for cutting back.
  • Monitor your drinking habits for 1 week.
  • Give yourself a drinking limit each day.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider (perhaps anxiety or depression could be contributing factors).

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol, we recommend calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Hotline at 800-662-HELP (4357). This free, confidential, 24/7 information service number (available in both English and Spanish) provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations in your area.

 

Sources

  1. “Older Adults,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, last accessed December 9, 2021, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/older-adults.
  2. Steven Reinberg, “As You Age, Alcohol May Be Harder to Handle,” WebMD, last accessed February 11, 2022, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20190104/as-you-age-alcohol-may-be-harder-to-handle.
  3. “Facts About Aging and Alcohol,” National Institute on Aging, last accessed December 9, 2021, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/facts-about-aging-and-alcohol.
  4. “Alcohol and Older Adults,” University of Rochester Medical Center, last accessed December 9, 2021, https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=4033.